Checking in on the Astros’ latest experiments

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The Astros coming to New York meant that they’re getting a lot more of a national spotlight this week. And two columns came out about them yesterday. One by Ken Rosenthal and one by Danny Knobler. Each looks at a different part of the Astros new directions.

Rosenthal’s focuses on the Astros’ use of duel starting pitchers for each game in the minor leagues. Each team carries eight starters, with the first one going abut 75 pitches, the next coming in and a closer finishing up if necessary.  GM Jeff Luhnow explains how it works and why they’re doing it. It makes an awful lot of sense for a team in the Astros’ competitive and developmental position. Actually makes a lot of sense at the lower levels for any team, I would think.

Knobler looks at the Astros’ use of defensive shifts. Shifts are all the rage these days, but the Astros are using far more of them and far more complicated ones than anyone. Coach Eduardo Perez is the shift guru in Houston, and he talks about how it has been implemented and adapted as the season has gone on and various Astros pitchers have weighed in on how they feel about it all.

I imagine some will make fun of the Astros for being unconventional. Or look at what will certainly be a poor record at the end of the year and say “see, it didn’t work!” But there is absolutely zero reason for the Astros to not try to innovate and learn as much as they can now, when the games are comparatively unimportant for the franchise. If they help them find one player or one strategy that traditional developmental methods would not have, and if it helps them win any more games when the team is truly competitive, it will have been worth it.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 4, Rays 1: The Yankees used an opener and made this a bullpen game, trotting out eight pitchers who combined to give up only two hits and to strike out 13 in this one. Given that the Rays invented the opener thing, that was all rather rude, frankly. 🎵Anything you can do I can do better/I can do anything better than you🎵 etc. New York’s win eliminated the Rays from postseason contention and kept themselves a game and a half up on Oakland for home field in the Wild Card game.

Athletics 7, Mariners 3: The Yankees win over Tampa Bay clinched the Wild Card for Oakland, but his win allowed them to avoid that awkward thing where they spray champagne all over each other after losing a game. Khris DavisJonathan LucroyJed Lowrie and Matt Chapman all went deep for Oakland. The A’s finished in last place for three straight seasons and now they are 95-game winners heading for the playoffs. What a season.

Nationals 7, Marlins 3: Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer and a two-run double and Matt Wieters and Juan Soto each homered. Bryce Harper hit a sac fly that gave him his 100th RBI on the year. It’s a year that so many people have labeled as disappointing for Harper, but he’s going to finish it with at least 34 homers, those 100+ driven in, 126+ walks and 100 or so runs scores while posting an OBP of close to .400. It’s not the dynamic year a lot of people expected to see — he’s hitting .245 and hasn’t been slashing doubles and triples all over the place — but he’s done all of that and has been in the lineup all year long, which was one of the big knocks on him before. Not too shabby.

Astros 5, Blue Jays 3: Brian McCann and Josh Reddick hit back-to-back homers. Dallas Keuchel allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings for the win and pushed his season innings total over 200. Roberto Osuna got the save, but did so to a chorus of boos before his former hometown fans in Toronto thanks to them seeing him for the first time since his arrest for domestic violence. I would bet decent money, however, that had he not been traded to the Astros, he would’ve received a far warmer welcome by Jays fans on his first appearance there following his suspension, because that’s how fandom, unfortunately, works. Houston’s magic number for clinching the division is now two.

Red Sox 6, Orioles 2: Mookie Betts hit a two-run homer in the Sox’ four-run second inning and Nate Eovaldi struck out ten in five innings of work, allowing only one run. Fun Fact: last night I was at some social event on this here business trip I’m on and met a couple from Baltimore who are longtime Orioles season ticket holders. I asked them what they think about this year. They made great efforts to change the subject to the Ravens, for whom they are also season ticket holders. When we did eventually talk about the Orioles, one of them asked me what I thought of Chris Davis‘ contract. Remembering that everyone at this thing was an accountant, I used the term “sunk costs” and hoped for the best. They all thought it was cute that a guy with no accounting background understood what a sunk cost was. I don’t think any of that means anything. I’m just happy I found something to talk about with a bunch of accountants.

Pirates 5, Cubs 1: Cole Hamels hit a homer but that was the only run support he got while giving up three runs, two earned, of his own. His counterpart, Jameson Taillon, meanwhile, went 0-for-2 at the plate but gave up only one run over seven innings. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Do your job and don’t fart around with secondary tasks, maybe? I don’t know. My whole life has been based on farting around, basically, so I can’t really fault Hamels here.

Indians 4, White Sox 0: Corey Kluber has likely heard me and everyone else saying that the Cy Young should go to Blake Snell and decided to flip us all the bird with a seven shutout inning, 11-strikeout performance. I don’t think that changes the equation really, but it was strong all the same. Brandon Guyer and Adam Rosales each went deep for Cleveland.

Brewers 6, Cardinals 4: Ryan Braun homered and Christian Yelich drove in two as Milwaukee expands its Wild Card lead over the Cardinals and pulls to within a game and a half of the Cubs in the Central. St. Louis had a one-run lead heading into the seventh, but the wheels fell off, with Yelich tying things up on a fielder’s choice before Eric Thames tripled and then came home on a wild pitch. I was going to say that it was probably rare for him to triple, but it was actually his third this year. Bryce Harper, mentioned above, has zero. Weird.

Rockies 10, Phillies 1: Jon Gray was moved up a day in the rotation but it didn’t seem to bug him as he allowed one run in seven innings of work, striking out seven, against the mailing-it-in Phillies, who have now lost five in a row. Colorado has won four straight and pulls to within a half game of the Cardinals for that second Wild Card slot. David Dahl hit a two-run homer and Trevor Story made his return after missing a week of action with a bum elbow, hitting two doubles and turning a couple of double plays.

Dodgers 7, Diamondbacks 4: The Rockies did not gain ground on Los Angeles, however, as the Dodgers came from behind late to win for the sixth time in seven games. David Freese homered and went 3-for-4, Manny Machado knocked in a couple and Clayton Kershaw struck out six and walked one in six innings of work.

Angels 5, Rangers 4: Jose Briceno hit a pinch-hit walkoff homer in the 11th to power the Angels to victory. Shohei Ohtani and Michael Hermosillo also went deep for Los Angeles. Ohtani, by the way, now has a batting line of .280/.361/.546 with 21 homers and 56 RBI in only 99 games as a hitter. His looming Tommy John surgery is obviously a big concern for his pitching prospects, but we’re getting to the point to where you wanna ask if it’s gonna cause more disruption for his batting.

Padres 5, Giants 0: Bryan Mitchell took a shutout eight and two-thirds innings of the way and Jose Pirela homered as the Padres hand the Giants their fifth straight loss. The Giants are 4-17 in September and, last night, fired their general manager. So, yeah, this is gonna be a heck of an offseason in San Francisco.